When my feet touched down in Oslo, Norway, it was 5 am local time. The airport was deserted except for those from my flight.
I flagged a taxi at the airport to get to my hotel. I love to talk with taxi drivers. They are usually fascinating people, and always have good stories. This driver was no exception, he told me his family had all come to Norway from Pakistan in the early 1970s, and he was born in Oslo. He said he loved living in Norway in the summer when the sun was in the sky for 20 hours each day, and the temperatures were mild. Winter, he said was “dark, and very long.” He asked me if I was traveling alone, and when I said yes (I get this question from absolutely everyone), he said he would never be comfortable doing that. Not because he would feel unsafe, but because he would be lonely.
I laughed a little too hard, and his dark eyes watched me cautiously in the rear view mirror. “I am never as free as I am when I am traveling!” I said while I sat sideways in my seat, eyes searching out the window–taking in every detail of the land, buildings, sky, street signs, cars, people. “I have three daughters, I work full-time, I have a house and more dogs than I should. I travel to explore, to escape, to be present and to be completely selfish. My solo travel time is the only time in my life right now that is 100% mine! Ohhh, look at that beautiful farmhouse!” I said tapping on the car window.
My taxi driver said quietly, “I have five children under the age of seven. My wife has said she would like to go somewhere alone sometime, but I didn’t think she actually meant without me. I thought she would be scared or lonely. I might talk to her about it.”
I smiled at him in the mirror and said, “I always put my daughters first in my life. But when I travel, I get to do exactly what I want, whenever I want. I can stop for coffee or lunch at interesting places, or walk all day. Nobody is fighting or whining or complaining or slowing me down,” I said, barely controlling my giggles.
He said I was his last customer as he had been working all night and was heading home after he dropped me off. He was clearly fighting sleep, his eyes slowly closing and quickly opening wide again. I kept engaging him in conversation, hoping that we both got to Oslo safely. I asked about his kids and his wife who wanted to travel to London to visit friends. When we reached my hotel, he grabbed my backpack from the trunk of his car and suddenly put his arms around me in a hard embrace. I am never caught off guard by such strong expressions of emotion anymore. It happens when people speak the truth to each other.
“Thank you for your conversation today,” he said stepping away from me. “We were supposed to meet.”
I patted his arm and said, “I’m glad we did. Thank you for getting me to my hotel. Go home to your sweet family and get some rest.”
I left my backpack at the hotel, and started walking toward downtown. I wandered past the Oslo Opera House, which has a sweeping promenade that seems to slide right into the water. I was alone with several pigeons as they cooed and strutted around with their bright eyes and red feet.
Nothing in the city was open yet, except for the train station. I found a shop for coffee and a giant custard filled pastry. It was like a sweet pillow melting in my mouth! Of course when I bought it I thought I’d never be able to eat that giant thing, then sat down and gobbled it up.
I pulled out my paper city map and charted my trail for the day, starting with the Royal Palace. There were only a few people up at the early hour, and the guard was such a good sport when I asked him for a selfie. He said, “Sure.” Then I had to take take another because I looked really tired in the first one. And a third one when I didn’t get him looking at the camera. He kept turning his head like clockwork–back and forth to monitor the area–and then would pause and look at me for a snapshot. I thanked him and he said again, “Sure.” The gardens of the Royal Palace are all open to the public. Most of the trees were planted in the mid 1800s and are still growing. As any of the plants die, the gardens are transformed into more native plants and flowers. It was a very peaceful place in the middle of the city.
From the Royal Palace, I wandered over to the Vigeland Sculpture park, named after the sculptor who made amazing statues out of granite and iron. It apparently took him over twenty years (which isn’t much time, given the delicate emotions expressed on these faces) to sculpt over 200 sculptures in the park. The sculptures depict relationships among people throughout their lives. There was an angry baby stomping his foot, mischievous children at play, adults with love for each other and their families, and the elderly comforting the dying.
It touched me to see the photos of the parents with their children, piled like monkeys and seeming to multiply with every look. I remembered feeling that way as a newly single mother many years ago, with three young daughters that felt like they multiplied some days and I would simultaneously want to shield them from the world while also want to hide from them for only a few minutes of solitude.
The violence of some statues was frightening, and the comfort of those that were gently touching each other as they were taking delight in a new baby or weeping for those that were dying–the crowd of tourists all felt it. We all laughed at the babies and by the time the crowd walked to the place in the park with those that were dying, it became quiet and somber.
There were many different languages being spoken that day in the park, yet we all found humor in the same expressions and joy in the same young children. We respected the sorrow of the elderly. It was remarkable, and I kept hearing myself whisper, “These are only stones.” But the stones were telling the stories of our own lives, and we were laughing at ourselves–and crying for our own losses. Sometimes I think if we are lucky enough, we all reach a place in life where we can seek forgiveness from the universe for the consequences of our own birth. And we forgive the universe itself for bringing us so unsuspectingly into so much joy and so much pain.
The Monolith towers over the park and was amazingly carved from a single stone. It depicts humanity’s attempt to reach the heavens in pursuit of a relationship with the Creator. This park alone was worth the trip. I felt like I was visiting someone’s neighborhood with children out to play, mothers comforting their babies, even angry violence was here. It is utterly incredible to see the raw emotions, to feel the stories so common to all of us. This park alone was worth the trip to Oslo.